AbeBooks Home

Pages & Proofs

A book blog from the staff at AbeBooks.co.uk

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

Illicit notebook detailing Newgate Prison’s executions sells for £5,000

‘The Death Warrant’ etching from Cotton’s notebook

A handwritten notebook – belonging to the chaplain of London’s Newgate Prison, which details numerous executions of notable 19th century criminals – has sold for £5,000 ($7,341) via the AbeBooks.co.uk marketplace for used and rare books.

‘Convicts Executed Since the Year 1812 at Newgate’ was the Reverend Horace Salusbury Cotton’s personal and illicit record of the execution process. The bookseller was London rare book dealer Peter Harrington.

Rev Cotton’s book

Cotton worked at Newgate from 1814 to 1839. He recorded the dates of executions, the names and crimes of criminals, and other facts that caught his attention. He also added some magazine clippings about executions.

The dark blue notebook contains 120 pages of clear handwritten notes, and three small etchings by a prisoner called W. Thompson and dated 1828 – The Morning of Execution, Condemned Criminals Receiving the Sacrament, and The Death Warrant.

The first page features John Bellingham, who Cotton notes “shot Mr. Percival the Prime Minister, in the Lobby of the House of Commons.” Spencer Percival, who was killed in 1812, is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

In 1820, Cotton attended to the final moments of five of the Cato Street conspirators, who had plotted to murder the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool and his entire cabinet in 1820. They were the last people to be hung and beheaded as a punishment in Britain. “They were decapitated after being hung – and buried in the prison in their cloathes [sic.],” wrote Cotton.

At the rear of the book, Cotton added a note that explains how in 1836 he had been asked by officials whether he “kept any other Journal relating to Newgate other than the one in the Keeper’s Office” and how he had been forced to surrender “two books” to the inspectors, who expressed their “regret that any Books [should exist] the entries in which have been kept secret from the Court of Aldermen.”

Title page of Cotton’s book

This copy was apparently not surrendered and offers a remarkable historical insight into corporal punishment in the 19th century.

In 1815, Cotton officiated at the execution of Eliza Fenning, a servant found guilty of attempting to poison her master’s family with arsenic. Her conviction was front page news at the time as many thought she was innocent. Fenning was hanged alongside a man convicted of sodomy and also a child rapist.

Newgate Prison was built in the 12th century. It stood at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey, and was demolished in 1904. London’s gallows were moved to Newgate in the late 18th century and public executions outside the prison attracted large crowds.

Newgate’s famous prisoners have included author Daniel Defoe, playwright Ben Jonson, pirate William Kidd, and William Penn who founded Pennsylvania.

The prison even inspired a genre of literature – Newgate Novels – which drew on the dramatic lives of its inmates. Newgate has featured in countless books, and Charles Dickens mentioned it in Oliver Twist, Barnaby Rudge, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities.

The ‘Condemned Criminals Receiving Sacrament’ etching

The ‘Morning of Execution’ etching

Cotton’s Notes – the three executions detailed were for murder, robbery and house-breaking respectively.

A clipping found in Cotton’s book – the executions were for stealing clothing, highway robbery and the theft of silver buckles.

David Bowie’s top 100 books

In October 2013, we published this list of David Bowie’s 100 favourite books. With the sad news of his death at 69 from cancer, this list offers a special insight into the mind behind the musician. Celebrate the life and music of a man who read a book each day.

David Bowie’s favourite 100 books have been revealed and it’s a good list stretching from Homer to modern bestselling authors like Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz. The musician is the subject of an exhibition called David Bowie Is and the list was released as the exhibition moved from London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum to Canada’s Art Gallery of Ontario.

The top 100 was supplied to the curators by the singer’s archivist, who keeps watch over a huge collection of stage costumes, sheet music, books and other memorabilia accumulated from an entertainment career that began in 1962 when Bowie was just 15 and formed his first band.

David Bowie is a “voracious reader,” according to Geoffrey Marsh, the V&A exhibition co-curator, “who consumes a book a day.”

The list boasts many titles from the 1960s, a formative decade for Bowie (real name David Jones), who hit the big time in 1969 with Space Oddity. Favourites from the Swinging Sixties include A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Saul Bellow’s Herzog.

There are three George Orwell books – Inside the Whale and Other Essays, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Apparently Bowie wanted to produce a musical around Nineteen Eighty-Four but failed to obtain the rights.

You will also find Dante, Homer’s Iliad, Faulkner, Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Capote, Evelyn Waugh and D.H. Lawrence. There’s poetry too and several books that analyse modern music, including the evolution of soul and the career of Little Richard.

Fans of British humour will be pleased to see the chameleon of pop also reads Viz Magazine when not browsing Albert Camus’ Stranger. Viz is infamous for memorable satirical characters such as the Fat Slags, Johnny Fartpants, Buster Gonad and Sid the Sexist.

David Bowie’s 100 books

Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

Room at the Top by John Braine

On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious by Douglas Harding

Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

City of Night by John Rechy

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

The Iliad by Homer

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

Inside the Whale and Other Essays by George Orwell

Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art by James A. Hall

David Bomberg by Richard Cork

Blast by Wyndham Lewis

Passing by Nella Larson

Beyond the Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd

The Divided Self by R. D. Laing

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Infants of the Spring by Wallace Thurman

The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Puckoon by Spike Milligan

Black Boy by Richard Wright

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

McTeague by Frank Norris

Money by Martin Amis

The Outsider by Colin Wilson

Strange People by Frank Edwards

English Journey by J.B. Priestley

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn

Mystery Train by Greil Marcus

Beano Comic

Raw Magazine

White Noise by Don DeLillo

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom by Peter Guralnick

Silence: Lectures and Writing by John Cage

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll by Charlie Gillett

Octobriana and the Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky

The Street by Ann Petry

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jnr

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz

The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard

The Bridge by Hart Crane

All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

Tales of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey

Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia

The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945 by Jon Savage

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Viz Comic

Private Eye Magazine

Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara

The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens

Flaubert’s Parrrot by Julian Barnes

Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jur by Lawrence Weschler

Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri

A Grave for a Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno

The Insult by Rupert Thomson

In Between the Sheets by Ian McEwan

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes

Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

Raptis Rare Books – selling the finest books in rural Vermont

Matthew and Adrienne Raptis

Deep in the southern Vermont countryside, you will find an ornate Italianate villa simply packed with sumptuous books worthy of any collector’s bookshelf.

Welcome to Raptis Rare Books and the world of husband-and-wife bookselling team Matthew and Adrienne Raptis.

Matthew and Adrienne specialize in fine first editions, signed and inscribed books, and books that are quite simply important. You will see them at the major books fairs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, and you can visit their Vermont villa if you have an appointment.

They have sold via AbeBooks since 2003 and their inventory covers the biggest names in literature.

The home of Raptis Rare Books in Vermont

Raptis Rare Books stands out for the high quality photography that accompanies their listings on AbeBooks. Just browsing their books is fascinating – a first edition of Ulysses, a first edition of The Great Gatsby complete with its dust jacket, a Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. These are books that are simply important.

Prices range from $20 for signed copy of The Flaming Corsage by William Kennedy to $160,000 for a first edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Adrienne kindly took a few minutes away from the business to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: How did you get into the bookselling trade?

Adrienne: “Matthew started collecting books when he was a young child. He was very interested in history, particularly the American Civil War, and started with a small collection of antiquarian books. His collection grew over the years to encompass many other fields, such as literature, economics, architecture, and photography. The business in rare books was a natural development from his passions.

“I came into the business by virtue of being married to Matthew, so it was less of a direct journey. My degrees are in the sciences, but I have always loved books and read voraciously. A funny thing is that I used to pretend when I was a child that I was a bookseller. We actually came across a photo a number of years ago after we returned from the San Francisco book fair that shows me with my books fanned out in a very similar way to how our books our displayed when we are at a fair. It must have been destiny because I love this business and being surrounded by such amazing pieces of history.”

An example of Raptis’ photography – The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

AbeBooks: What’s the most expensive book you have ever sold?

Adrienne: “We’ve sold a number of books in the six figures, but we’d rather not say specific titles or amounts. (Editor’s note – Adrienne is being discrete. In September 2015, Raptis sold a signed 1964 first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl for $25,000 on the AbeBooks marketplace, so you can see their inventory can command top dollar prices.)

AbeBooks: What’s the first edition you have always wanted to offer for sale but never yet found?

Adrienne: “Our holy grail of books would be a first edition Don Quixote. There was one that was known in the 1980s and went for around $1.5 million.​ If you find one in your attic, give us a call.”

Books galore in the Raptis gallery

AbeBooks: How do you acquire your inventory?

​Adrienne: “This is a question we get asked quite often. We do a lot of travelling and have both been to over 65 countries. W​e travel to purchase items from private collections, bookstores, rare books, and auctions.”

AbeBooks: What’s the most thrilling aspect of bookselling – discovery, closing a sale, making customers happy?

Adrienne: “We love making our customers happy and finding specific titles that they are looking for.​”

AbeBooks: “You are located in the heart of New England – would you describe it as a bookish part of the world?

​Adrienne: “This is definitely a bookish part of world. New England is known for its schools of higher education​ and literary events. You can still find many small and used bookstores in the ​area. Brattleboro in particular has a literary history, with famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Saul Bellow, and many others living and writing in the area. We also have a wonderful yearly literary festival.”

Search Raptis Rare Books

December’s bestselling signed books

December's bestselling signed books

Here it is, the last signed books list of 2015. M Train by Patti Smith has crept up the list to the number one spot. Despite being released late in the year, the popular memoir was one of AbeBooks’ bestselling signed books of 2015. December’s list includes some brand new reads alongside a few books that have stood the test of time.

1. M Train by Patti Smith

2. A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

4. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello

5. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

6. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

7. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

8. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

9. Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates

10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Changes trilogy author Peter Dickinson dies at 88

The Devil’s Children and The Weathermongers by Peter Dickinson

It was sad to hear of Peter Dickinson’s death at the age of 88. His writing is much loved in our household. The BBC’s 1970s adaptation of Dickinson’s Changes trilogy had a huge impact on me at the time. It was a genuinely disturbing piece of drama… for children. His three books about how Britain turns against technology and machinery, and reverts back to medieval ways and thinking, are very much worth reading. As noted in his obituary in The Guardian today, his writing was all about the narrative.

Describing his approach, Dickinson said: “My purpose in writing a children’s book is to tell a story, and everything is secondary to that; but when secondary considerations arise they have to be properly dealt with. Apart from that I like my stories exciting and as different as possible from the one I wrote last time.

His first children’s novel, The Weathermonger, was published in 1968. Heartsease followed in 1969 and The Devil’s Children in 1970. These three books became the Changes trilogy. The Devil’s Children referenced in the title of the third book are Sikhs – for an author, in 1970, to have a group of Sikhs as the heroes and main protagonists was incredibly forward-thinking. The 1970s were filled with British sitcoms littered with jokes about ‘darkies’ and racial stereotypes. The final struggle in The Devil’s Children where the Sikhs battle the thuggish ‘knight’ and his cronies is memorable for its simplicity and sheer excitement.

He was the first author to twice receive the Carnegie Medal for the year’s best new children’s book. He won in 1980 for Tulku and again in 1981 for City of Gold and Other Stories from the Old Testament.

His other notable children’s books include The Dancing Bear (published in 1972), set in the 6th century, and  The Blue Hawk (published in 1976), which is set in a deeply religious country rather like Egypt.

Bookseller Q&A: Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books

Brian Martin, owner of Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books

Brian Martin, owner of Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books

We recently caught up with Brian Martin, prolific author and owner of Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books in Surrey. From his most coveted book to the strangest thing he’s found between two pages, Brian tells us all about the world of rare book selling.

AbeBooks: How did you become a bookseller?

Brian Martin: I became a bookseller through being a professional author. In finding particular books necessary for my research, before the days of computers, I sometimes had to buy big batches of books at auction simply to acquire the one volume wanted. I was left with a quantity of unwanted books and decided to advertise them, whereupon I discovered that this could be quite lucrative.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

BM: To be a successful bookseller I  believe that it is essential to have an innate love of books – each has its own character and I have often said that I can date a book to within about 50 years simply through its unique smell. To understand books I think you need to be an avid collector and sometimes it is hard to part with a particular volume. But there is great satisfaction in tracking down a title for someone who truly appreciates it.

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

BM: My most prized items are in my own collection and not for sale, including copies signed to me by fellow authors such as the late Hugh Falkus and Eric Hosking, and “BB”, with whom I shared a magazine column for over 20 years. Of those which are for sale, the most special are not necessarily the most expensive, but are often signed and have association with key figures or moments in history. These include The Price of Peace by William Beveridge, 1945, inscribed to Frances Lloyd George, second wife of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and the signed copy of The Sources of the Nile, 1860, by Charles Beke, which is now offered for sale for the first time, having been in the same family since publication.

AbeBooks: What’s the one book you covet most? Why?

BM: As a collector of bird books I have quite a few of the key works, such as Willoughby’s Birds 1678 – the first book in English devoted entirely to birds. However, I am still keen to acquire a good set of John Gould’s Birds of Great Britain, finances permitting!

Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

BM: I have found many odd things in books from very old bank notes and the inevitable pressed flowers to original letters from the authors. My favourite item was a beautiful, mint condition 18th century silhouette of a woodcutter and his cottage, which was in a book of about the same date. I had it framed and it still hangs on my walls.

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

BM: This may seem rather pompous but I will always remember when I first bought a collection of books which happened to include one of my own titles, Tales of the Old Gamekeepers. Everything seemed to have gone full circle. This has now happened quite a few times and sometimes the owners have asked me to sign the books and then decided to keep them!

AbeBooks: What’s your favourite book?

BM: My favourite non-fiction book is The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, by Gilbert White, not only because it is written so honestly and was the first true account of first-hand observations of nature in one area, but also because it describes somewhere close to my heart, in my home county of Hampshire. Incidentally, it is one of  the most printed books in the English language, having gone through over 300 editions since its first appearance in 1789 A close second is Hampshire Days by W.H.Hudson, whose travel and natural history books are often inspired. For fiction I like poetry, from Wordsworth’s “On Westminster Bridge” to Edmund Blunden’s “The Midnight Skaters”.

Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books

Search books sold by Brian P. Martin Antiquarian Books

November’s bestselling signed books

November's bestselling signed books

1. Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

2. Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

3. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

4. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

5. M Train by Patti Smith

6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

7. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

8. The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

9. Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music by John Fogerty

10. The Martian by Andy Weir

Sam Wenger and his Quest for Arthurian Literature

Sam Wenger and his Woodstock bookshop sign

Bookseller Sam Wenger’s spiritual home isn’t California, or upstate New York, or any of the other places that he has called home. He would like to settle and enjoy life in Camelot – the residence of King Arthur, still Britain’s greatest hero, and his famous knights of the round table.

Sam specialises in books about Arthurian and Celtic mythology as well as medieval and mythic literature. He’s long been inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien – that professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, who also dabbled in a little fantasy writing.

Today, Sam is found in Los Angeles but his bookselling adventures began in 1977 when he and Moira Joyce opened a bookshop called Three Geese In Flight Celtic Books in Woodstock, New York – yes, that Woodstock.

“Moira’s family were Gaelic speakers from Ireland, as well as Micmac from Nova Scotia,” said Sam. “I was drawn to Celtic culture. The stories, the legends, the poetry. I was then teaching Celtic Myth at the Irish Arts Centre in New York City and at Ulster County College in Stone Ridge near our Woodstock bookstore. At the time, combining King Arthur with Celtic Studies was considered odd, and having a bookstore with this as a focus was considered odder still.”

Located in the Catskill Mountains, Sam also began to stock folklore books around witches and legends that Washington Irving made famous with Rip Van Winkle, and the Headless Horseman.

Eventually, Sam moved West where he now teaches and lectures, and sells online and by appointment out of his apartment. “We also feature books about the American Revolution,” he added. “We see that struggle as an extension of the Heroic Age.”

His unique inventory stretches from England’s (or Wales’) Camelot to Yiddish Arthurian legends, as well as many books on Celtic Studies, including Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish and Breton history. He supplies books to collectors of Arthurian folklore around the globe.

Find books from Three Geese in Flight Celtic Books

Selected Items from Sam’s Inventory

A Latin bible from 1602

A 1602 edition of Biblia Sacra Veteris Et Novi

A pre-King James Latin bible (pictured above) containing the Old and New Testaments bound in thick calf skin on wood with four fold-out maps, including a map of the 12 tribes of Israel. The oldest book in Sam’s selection.

The Dwarfs of Arthurian Romance And Celtic Tradition

The Dwarfs of Arthurian Romance And Celtic Tradition by Vernon J.Harward Jr.

Published by E.J.Brill in 1958, this unusual book covers dwarfs in medieval, French Romance and Irish mythology. An uncommon book.

Myrddin Wyllt Yn Nghyd A Ber Hanes O’I Fywyd Wedi Eu Tynu Annan O’Lyfr Y Daroganau (Merlin Chap Book) by Twm O’r Nant / Thomas Edwards.

An eight-page Merlin (that’s Myrddin in Welsh) chap book from 1849. Twm o’r Nant was the pen name of Welsh poet Thomas Edwards (1739-1810), also known as Tom of the Dingle. He was famous for writing short plays.

Baptiste Larocque Legends of French Canada by Paul A.W.Wallace

A 1923 hardcover edition published by the Musson Book Company of Toronto. It includes a hand woven blue, yellow and gray sash. The book contains 25 tales of French Canadian folklore.

Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne

A collection of children’s fairy tales written by Browne, the Irish poet and novelist (1816-1879). She was blind from the age of 18 months after falling ill with Smallpox.

Heroes of the Dawn by Violet Russell

Heroes of the Dawn by Violet Russell

Published in Ireland in 1914, this is a piece of Irish mythology retold by Russell and illustrated by Beatrice Elvery. One of the plates features the underworld shooting fire at Finn MacCool, the great hunter-warrior of Irish legend.

Three Middle English Romances by Laura A. Hibbard

A 1911 first edition of Middle English Arthurian romances. Hibbard was the wife of Arthurian Celticist Roger Sherman Loomis.

The Children Of Kings by W. Lorcan O’ Byrne

A 1904 hardcover published by Blackie, a Celtic mythic fantasy novel that combines Welsh, Cornish and Irish Arthurian and Tristan legend.

Bookseller of the Week: Churchill Book Collector

Finely bound Churchill books offered by Churchill Book Collector

To celebrate the anniversary of Winston Churchill’s birth on 30 November 1874, Marc Kuritz of Churchill Book Collector was kind enough to answer our questions about his bookselling business. Churchill Book Collector – a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America – is located in San Diego, California, and is run by Marc and Paul Shelley. Read on and you will also gain an insight into Winston Churchill himself, the business of rare bookselling and the people who collect Churchill’s books.

AbeBooks: What are the origins of your business?

Marc: “The short version first: Love of books in general. Persistent interest in this particular author. And of course a healthy dose of happy accident. Now the longer version: I’m sure it will come as a great surprise that I was a voracious reader since early childhood and inclined to collecting books. Amusingly, in college I won an award and accompanying cash prize for best private student library – which was *almost* enough to ship most of my books home upon graduation.

Marc Kuritz of Churchill Book Collector

“As an undergraduate I spent a few terms in Washington, D.C.. One was with a brilliant professor quite versed in things Churchill. We discussed politics and leadership extensively. I admired Theodore Roosevelt and my professor asked me what about Roosevelt engendered my respect. He then recommended that I investigate Churchill as a par excellence example of the qualities that drew me to Roosevelt. This was 1989. I read the two excellent Churchill biography volumes by William Manchester, the latter of which had just been published. One of them – a pleasant memory – I read on a Cape Cod beach.

“I was studying and embarking upon a career in politics and was already a lifelong bibliophile. Churchill was a complex icon of political leadership who, whenever he wasn’t busy trying to lead the free world, spent his life writing a veritable library of books. I was hooked. Though I was amused to learn that Roosevelt met Churchill and did not like him – a fact my professor judiciously withheld when recommending Churchill.

“I spent a second term in D.C. taking the Metro lines out as far as they would go to explore any used bookstores I could walk to from the stations. I actually went shy on meals for acquisitions and managed to definitively hook myself on book collecting. For the rest of college (upstate NY), I took any opportunities to prowl out of the way bookshops in the Northeast. Of course, luck netted some neat items in my early years, but what I remember most are the things I passed up for want of knowledge or funds or both. I still remember four jacketed U.S. World Crisis first edition volumes on a floor in a New Hampshire bookshop – the first four no less. At nearly $100 and being a bit frayed at the dust jacket edges, I thought them too far a stretch for me. Of course they are worth a small fortune and the first volume in dust jacket is virtually unobtainable at any price.

“A post graduation fellowship and early career in politics meant that means lagged interest for some years, but I did not lose my affinity for Churchill. Eventually I became a more serious, discerning, and better financed collector. I learned a lot about the trade from the perspective of a customer – a good perspective to remember and one I’m particularly grateful for now as a dealer. Some years later my collection ran to excess. I became a dealer by happenstance, having acquired inventory, knowledge, and contacts that exceeded my own Churchill collecting goals. So, rather on a whim, I decided to dabble in the trade.

“I started by supplying other dealers. Then I met a fellow enthusiast via a sale. We decided to partner on the effort of retailing directly, diligently, and professionally. And here I am. I of course maintain a personal collection separate from the inventory, as does my Churchill Book Collector partner, Paul.

Churchill books galore on the shelves of Churchill Book Collector

“At this time, we are well-established as specialists in printed works by and about Sir Winston Churchill. We feature a robust and growing selection of non-Churchill material but our specialty remains Churchill. Our inventory includes premium first and collectible editions, and signed and inscribed copies – as well as a stock of affordable reading copies of works by and about Churchill. Our business is primarily online, though we do invite customers by appointment to view our inventory in San Diego.

“The book trade has changed a lot since my days of traveling miles to delightfully dusty old bookstores and introducing myself to the resident cats and proprietors (in that order of course). Even though much business is now online, we try to bring the same level of personal care and attention that a collector might find in a traditional bookshop. We enjoy assisting fellow collectors, so we are happy to help answer questions about the daunting profusion of editions in the Churchill canon. Our descriptions are reliably detailed and accurate, always accompanied by images of the actual item offered, so our customers can come as close as possible to a visceral feel for what they are buying. We pack and ship all of our orders with care and attention. And we are able to help assemble full collections of Churchill’s works and commission quality fine bindings and preservation cases.”

AbeBooks: Where are the majority of Churchill book collectors?

Marc: “Our largest number of sales, by both volume and total value, are to U.S. customers. The U.K. is a strong second, Canada third. This makes sense when you consider the respective populations of each country. That said, Churchill is truly a world figure, and our market is a world market. We contact our customers several times a month and our emails are routinely opened on at least five continents in roughly two dozen countries. Some of these countries might surprise you – Nicaragua, Jordan, Greece, Japan, China, and Portugal are a few examples.”

AbeBooks: What is the rarest Churchill book that you currently offer?

Why I Am A Free Trader by Winston Churchill

Marc: “Among the rarest items by Churchill we offer right now is something that is not a book at all, but rather a 1905 pamphlet titled: ‘Why I Am A Free Trader’.

“Most collectors think in terms of books. Churchill certainly wrote a lot of them and many are quite scarce and valuable. But with Churchill some of the rarest items are actually pamphlet publications. Since they are quite fragile and perishable, the survival rate is often quite low. This particular pamphlet is from very early in Churchill’s career and few copies are known to survive.

“The pamphlet is a remarkable portrait of the great man on the cusp of his greatness, published in 1905 at the height of Churchill’s vigor as a young radical and in advance of the 1906 General Election. It contains a 17-page piece by Churchill on Free Trade preceded by a three-page biographic sketch and a striking, full-page, half-tone portrait of Churchill. Churchill’s piece was – intentionally – the first of 26, each a ‘brief character sketch of a coming man, with his latest portrait, and a statement of his views upon a leading question of the day’. The 26 pamphlets were published weekly in 1905 before being issued collectively in a single volume late in the year. That volume is rare, but this individual pamphlet publication is especially so.

“The editor, William T. Stead, chose to publish Churchill’s pamphlet first and designated him as ‘Coming Man, No. 1’. The editor’s three-page opening biographical sketch of the up-and-coming Churchill is a fascinating piece of history in and of itself. In choosing Churchill as ‘the first of our coming men’ Stead stated that ‘If he chooses to take it, a seat in the next Cabinet is at his disposal.’ Stead said of Churchill ‘he has got 10 years’ start on all his competitors’ and that ‘Winston’s past has been variegated. His present is exciting.’ At the time, Churchill was a promising young leader, but he had yet to experience either the trying failures or supreme triumphs that cemented his place in history. In the 1906 election Churchill stood as a Liberal, having left the Conservative Party of his father. Free trade was a major issue upon which Churchill campaigned and a significant issue on which he parted from his former party.”

AbeBooks: Is there a Churchill book that all collectors desire?

Marc: “Yes. Everyone – from the most serious collectors to casual readers, from those most knowledgeable about Churchill to those who know him only as a wartime figure – wants a copy of Churchill’s history of The Second World War.

“During his long life, Churchill played many roles worthy of note – member of Parliament for more than half a century, soldier and war correspondent, prolific author, accomplished painter, ardent social reformer, combative cold warrior, Nobel Prize winner. But Churchill’s preeminence as a historical figure owes most to his indispensable leadership during the Second World War, when his soaring and defiant oratory sustained his countrymen and inspired the free world. Of course Churchill wrote quite a lot more – and some would say books that are better – than The Second World War. But this is the one everybody wants. Naturally we always stock a wide variety of editions of this iconic work.”

AbeBooks: What’s the most expensive Churchill book that you have sold?

Marc: “Among the most expensive – and most interesting – items we have sold is a small archive owned by Churchill’s wartime nurse, Dorothy Pugh (1919-2014). This remarkable Second World War archive includes her inscribed copy of Churchill’s autobiography, her personal wartime diary, wartime photographs, and later correspondence from Churchill’s official biographer.

“In February 1943, Churchill was struggling to recover from a series of illnesses, including pneumonia. Churchill’s doctor, Sir Charles Wilson (made Lord Moran that March), Dean of St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, hired a young St. Mary’s nurse to attend the Prime Minister. Her diary records that all she knew on 19 February 1943 was ‘Am to go out on a case tomorrow… all very exciting.’ The next day she ‘Met Sir C Wilson who duly introduced me to Mr WSC met Mrs C a little later. Both of them very nice indeed… it all feels strange and unreal but no doubt I shall soon get used to it…’ By the next day, it was decided she would reside with the Prime Minister: ‘Am going to live in as it’s a rush to get here in the morning.’ She would stay with him for several weeks, and thereafter as needed.

Nurse Pugh’s Churchill archive

“During her first week with Churchill, he gave her a copy of his My Early Life (the 1941 first printing of the Macmillan wartime reprint) inscribed thus: ‘To | Nurse Dorothy Pugh | from | Winston S. Churchill | February 1943’. For the next 18 months, Nurse Pugh would not only serve the Prime Minister in London, but also accompany him to Chequers and travel with him to both the First and Second Quebec conferences with Roosevelt.

“The inscribed book is significant, but Nurse Pugh’s remarkable personal diary truly anchors this archive, with myriad unique glimpses of wartime history – and of Churchill himself. I had the pleasure of reading through the diary, with includes entries spanning 1942 to 1946.

“History is often told from the perspective of great events and the great personalities who shape them. The few who conspicuously make history are also those most likely to record it; the voices of the many who are busy living history are often lost. Hence this diary is quite a poignant, remarkable, and historically significant item. Pugh’s entries interweave daily London life of rationing, air raids, and “carry on” ethos with the momentous figures, events, and decisions shaping wartime Britain. Nurse Pugh’s entries juxtapose movie reviews, enthusiasm for eggs, and concern for her RAF husband (252 Squadron, flying Bristol Beaufighters in the Mediterranean, including Libya and Greece) with first-hand accounts of Churchill and key wartime figures that range from humorous and poignant (‘Bed bathed P.M…. Mrs C as an audience’) to grave import (‘PM told me that Tunisia will be O.K. now.’).

“I was clearly not the first person to be interested in Nurse Pugh’s unique perspective on Churchill and the Second World War. Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert contacted Nurse Pugh on 22 March 1982 asking for her recollections about Churchill. Nurse Pugh replied on 6 April 1982 and some of her reflections were recorded in Churchill’s official biography, including her conversation with Churchill aboard the Queen Mary en route to the second Quebec conference with Roosevelt in September 1944. Three letters from Gilbert are included in this archive, as are five photographs of Nurse Pugh, among them two taken in Quebec during her travels with Churchill, as well as a Christmas 1944 letter to Nurse Pugh from her superior at St. Mary’s Hospital. To house the archive, we commissioned a purpose-built half leather clamshell case with a nested cloth chemise.”

Churchill Book Collector offers several copies of Thoughts and Adventures

AbeBooks: Why is there such a strong interest in the writing of Churchill?

Marc: “He was a terrific writer of course with a distinctive voice. All the wit and incisiveness and rolling cadences and sweeping sense of history inherent to his speeches permeate his books. But there are a lot of great writers. Churchill’s extraordinary life is what so compellingly infuses his writing. Churchill doesn’t just tell a great story; he is a great story. And most of what he wrote about were events and issues and people and places central to his life.

“Historian Sir Martin Gilbert rightly called Churchill’s life, ‘remarkable and versatile’. It has become common for each generation to claim that they have experienced more change – technological, cultural, and geopolitical – than any preceding. Before asserting your claim, I’d encourage you to consider Churchill.

“The young war correspondent and British imperial soldier who participated in ‘the last great cavalry charge in British history’ would later help design the tank, pilot aircraft, direct use of some of the earliest computers (for WWII code breaking), and ultimately preside as Prime Minister over the first British nuclear weapons test. This icon of the British Conservative Party dramatically repudiated the Conservatives in his early career and spent 20 years as a Liberal, championing progressive causes and being branded a traitor to his class. This soldier and scion of British Imperialism wrote his first published book in a tent on the northwest colonial Indian frontier. He would later bear witness to and hold power during devolution of the British Empire, along the way supporting causes contrary to prevailing sentiment of his caste and country – early and vigorously – such as Irish Home Rule and a Jewish national home in Palestine. First elected to Parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria, Churchill would serve as the first Prime Minister under the currently reigning Queen Elizabeth II.

Winston Churchill

“Some seek to proselytize Churchill’s unerring judgment and prescience and envelop him in dull – and undeserved – hagiography. We don’t. Infallibility is boring and Churchill was anything but boring. In fact, it could be said his failures drove some of his best writing. On many occasions Churchill’s political career was viewed as all but over. Each time it very nearly was. And each time he took up his pen.

“His epic history of the First World War, arguably some of his finest writing, was spurred by his disgrace over the Dardanelles, his subsequent political exile, and his desire to clear his name. And of course Churchill found extra writing time in the 1920s after the electoral destruction of his Liberal Party, which left Churchill without a seat in Parliament for a few years. His tremendous literary output in the 1930s was at least partially enabled by the fact that he was once again out of power, out of favor, and out of money – his political fortune ruined by his implacable opposition to appeasing Hitler and his financial fortune ruined by the stock market crash of 1929. His first, wartime Premiership was a spectacular convergence of moment and man, limning both as a glowing place in the history of leadership. His second and final premiership… not so much.

The good news for readers is that when he was wrong or intemperate or vulgar it was with Churchillian wit and panache. Churchill opposed Indian independence and called Gandhi: ‘a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace…’ Even the unflappable Gandhi was pricked and goaded. As were most who suffered – deservedly or not – the scourge of Churchill’s tongue and ink.

Churchill was brash and ambitious and egocentric. Nonetheless, time and again Churchill showed – both as a leader and as a man – remarkable insight, courage, resolve, and decency.

Often the writings of a great statesman are just a polished literary headstone, secondary to a life spent in pursuit and exercise of power. Churchill’s life was writing. He wrote before he achieved power. He wrote after power passed from his aging hands. Words – evocative, emotional, reasoning, reckoning – were his personal currency and daily essential.

Churchill was many things, but perhaps above all a master wordsmith. Rough numbers tell part of the tale. He published 58 books, 260 pamphlets, and more than 840 feature articles. His speeches fill 9,000 pages. And he was awarded the Nobel Price for Literature.

Of course he wrote for practical purposes. He wrote to sustain himself and his family. He wrote to persuade and influence, and assert. But he also wrote as if words were not just a tool, but a compulsion, a part of him that he was driven to exhale onto page after endless page. During the course of his long life he left on paper perhaps more published work – and more that was revealingly himself – than any other great statesman.

But don’t take our word for it. Read some yourself…

AbeBooks: Is there much collectible ephemera associated with Churchill?

Marc: “Oh yes. Tons. A truly ridiculous profusion and astounding variety. Every possible item and material you could conceive has been afflicted with a likeness of Churchill at some point, from tea towels to cigarette cards and virtually anything and everything in between. I’m not judging, mind you. After all, I collect processed trees and ink.

“Some collectors take their Churchilliana quite seriously – and there is serious money in some of it. A few years ago, a customer asked us about liquidating his collection of Churchilliana – which filled five rather spacious rooms in his house. Generally we stick to books and published writing. But I have a friend – a buyer for one of the respected giants in the trade – who sardonically delights in the most obscure and inane Churchill bric-a-brac. I keep a small trove of Churchill ‘white elephant’ items on hand and randomly send her items from time to time.”

AbeBooks: Churchill was a prolific writer – is there a bibliography you recommend to people interested in his work?

Churchill Book Collector also offers several copies of While England Slept

Marc: “For the serious collector, there is Ronald Cohen’s outstandingly comprehensive, 3-volume bibliography – rather forthrightly titled A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill. My own copy is now heavily worn and annotated after years of almost daily use. Ron’s mammoth effort reflects decades of work and his singular experience as both a collector and bibliographer of Churchill’s work. The result is a most welcome replacement for Fredrick Woods’ worthy, but limited and now quite dated bibliographic work on Churchill.

“Comprising three volumes, Cohen’s Bibliography provides extensive detail and background on publications by Churchill, his contributions to the published work of others, articles by Churchill in serial publications, reports of speeches by Churchill on other published works, and several other categories of published Churchill contributions and communications. As testament to Ron’s thoroughness, only occasionally do we find items not detailed in his bibliography – and doing so feels like an accomplishment.

“Cohen’s bibliography is attractively bound in blue buckram with gilt stamping and red spine title boxes. The contents are printed on acid-free paper and each volume bears a red satin ribbon marker. This work is indispensible to any serious Churchill collector. That said, availability is limited, as publication was limited to 400 copies.

“For the more casual collector, or the Churchill collector just getting started, I strongly recommend two options:

“The first is our own online Guide to Churchill’s Books. This extensive online guide includes images and bibliographic information found nowhere else in print or online. It discusses in detail Churchill’s 38 major book-length works (comprising 58 individual volumes). And you can access it for free.

For those of you who are OK sacrificing more contemporary information for a printed book, there is Richard Langworth’s 1997 A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill. Langworth did a great service to Churchill collectors with this effort, not only discussing each edition at length, but also including hundreds of images of some extraordinary books. It is not a bibliography, but is truly what the title purports – a guide – and therefore bibliographic in spirit. As with our own online guide, reading Langworth’s book will provide an aesthetic, critical, and historical sense for each of Churchill’s book-length works. While the market values cited are woefully out of date, the information about editions and the hundreds of outstanding photographs are informative.”

AbeBooks: What biographies of Churchill do you recommend?

Marc: “As might be imagined for such a towering figure, there is a daunting profusion of Churchill biographies. I’ll limit myself to recommending just four.

Winston S. Churchill: The Official Biography by Sir Randolph S. Churchill and Sir Martin Gilbert

“This is an epic piece of scholarship about a singularly epic life, comprising eight mammoth main text volumes and – so far – 18 accompanying document volumes. The eight main text volumes were published between 1966 and 1988. Publication of the document volumes continues today. In 1962, at the age of 25, Gilbert joined Churchill’s biography team, then led by Churchill’s son Randolph. Of what became his life’s work, Gilbert says: ‘I’d thought I’d last four or five months.’ Instead, when Randolph died in 1968 with only two of the eight volumes completed, Gilbert took over, committing the substantial portion of his scholarship and life’s work to documenting, comprehending, and communicating Churchill’s life. It is the definitive source. It is also a daunting proposition for a reader. Just the eight main text volumes alone claim 19 inches of shelf space, weigh more than 28 pounds, and fill nearly 8,700 pages. That’s not including the 18 accompanying document volumes. And there are still a few more document volumes to come.

Churchill: A Life by Sir Martin Gilbert (pictured right)

“This substantial one-volume biography (1,066 pages) published in 1991 is not an abridgement of Gilbert’s eight-volume Official Biography, but rather a ground-up biography including information not known when the original, earlier Official Biography volumes were written. This is a good option for those wishing to benefit from Gilbert’s unparalleled expertise, but not willing to undertake reading all eight massive volumes of the full Official Biography.

The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 and The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester

“These highly acclaimed two volumes were my introduction to Churchill and enough to set me on the path of being a Churchill specialist dealer decades later. Enough said. Manchester died before undertaking a third and final volume, which was recently completed and published by Paul Reid (at Manchester’s behest). I cannot speak to this third volume, as I have not yet read it.

My Early Life by Winston S. Churchill

“This is Churchill’s extremely popular autobiography, covering the years from his birth in 1874 to his first few years in Parliament. Originally published in 1930, it has seen a dizzying array of reprints over the years, so affordable reading copies are readily available. Many assert that Churchill took liberties with some facts here and there, but that does not prevent the work from being revealing and informative about its author and a highly engaging read.”

Discover books from Churchill Book Collector

PBFA’s Kensington Christmas Book Fair returns on December 12

Visit the 2015 PBFA Christmas Kensington Book Fair

The PBFA’s Kensington Christmas Book Fair returns on Saturday December 12. The event was launched last year and proved to be a big hit with book collectors. Once again, AbeBooks.co.uk is a sponsor.

Kensington Town Hall is again playing host to around 70 booksellers, including several from overseas. On display will be a vast range of rare and collectible books, and ephemera ranging from vintage photography to maps and atlases.

Two fine presses will be in attendance – Parvenu from Lewes in Sussex and Queen Anne Press, which is run by Ian Fleming’s nephew, Fergus.

The Westenders, a singing group drawn from London musical theatre scene, will provide seasonal carol. There’s a bar and a café, and the other shopping delights of High Street Kensington is close by. Nearest tube station is High Street Kensington.

The fair runs from 10.30am until 4.30pm and admission is just 2. However, a free complimentary ticket can be downloaded at the PBFA website.